Every artist is different when it comes to their studio essentials. Apart from the obvious painting supplies (which again varies drastically from painter to painter), there can be a wide difference in what we choose to surround ourselves within order to help our creative practice. For some, this includes some favourite tunes or podcasts to get those inspirational juices flowing, but for others its a lifetime supply of mini cheddars and Jaffa cakes to keep you going. Hey – whatever gets you through the day right?? I hope you enjoy a little insider’s peek into my artist’s studio!
This is the list of my top 10 studio essentials!
1. Paint – of course
So as it is the most obvious, I thought I had better start with it. My paint of choice is acrylic paint. I paint mostly abstract landscape paintings, so acrylic is a perfect medium for this. Acrylic is a forgiving medium because it dries fast and so easy to paint over if you have made a mistake or something is not quite turning out as you had hoped. Plus, there is no waiting for weeks (sometimes even months) for the final finished piece to dry as with an oil painting. My brands of choice are Windsor & Newton, Liquitex and Golden. There are also several budget brands of acrylic paint that I often use and these are great, especially when starting out, but, I have found that the pigments of the professional colours are so much richer and a little goes a very long way. Of course the down side to using acrylic is that it dries darker and loses its lustre and sheen, but then that is where a useful gloss medium or a varnish comes in very handy. See my post here on how I use varnish to mimic an oil painting.
I used to paint mostly on paper, which is a fantastic medium as it is cheap and comes in big packs and you don’t have to be so precious. When I first started painting on canvas, I felt that everything I painted needed to be a masterpiece to justify the fact that I was using a canvas, plus the feel of the paintbrush is so different on a canvas, that for me, it took a bit of getting used to. Fast forward hours and hours of practice, canvas is by far my favourite surface to paint on. Also, the bigger the canvas the better as far as I am concerned. Although, I had some great fun painting on mini canvases last year for some markets and no doubt they will make another appearance at some point again this year!
Behind every successful artist is….. a gallon of coffee!! Well, it’s not just coffee, sometimes Yorkshire tea (well I am English and from Yorkshire), or a Pukka herbal concoction. Maybe it is the fact that I live in a cooler climate, but I’m never too far away from a hot cuppa. There is something almost ritualistic about getting your supplies ready, then making a hot drink, ready to start painting. Of course, nine times out of ten, my cuppa is cold before I’ve finished it, but nonetheless, it is always there in the background with everything else. Then I often subconsciously play the ‘will I dip my paintbrush in my paint water or my coffee?’ game with myself. I’ll let you guess how often I lose that game!! 🙂
Music and podcasts play a huge part in my studio. I can’t paint in silence, I need some background noise. What I’m listening to plays a huge part in my practice and very much depends on my mood. If inspiration is just not coming or I’m a bit stuck in a section of an artwork, then the art podcasts ‘Art Juice‘ by Louise Fletcher and Alice Sheridan and ‘Creative Pep Talk‘ by Andy J Pizza, really help get me going and refocus whatever I’m doing. But also music is essential for me and it differs depending on how I am feeling, the stage of the painting or how I want the brush strokes to appear. Yes, there is a whole Helena Tarn Art science to it! Usually at the beginning of a painting when I’m studying the composition, or laying down my base colours, it’s a very different feeling. Often I want my brush strokes to appear softer and to blend well together. For that, my music choice is all about the emotion, for me that’s Florence and the Machine, Mogli and Angus and Julia Stone (all the cool kids hanging out with me in my studio!) When I want to paint with much more energy and I’d I’m making bold and vibrant marks, then that’s when I crank up The Chemical Brothers, M.I.A or Vivaldi (yep – my taste is very eclectic!)
Yes, another obvious one. Painting larger, I’ve had to upsize my paintbrushes too. Although I have several brushes, I tend to use the same couple over and over again. I have a couple of nice expensive paint brushes that I do use, but mostly I will pop down to the hardware store and stock up. As I use acrylic paint, it’s not necessary to invest in beautiful sable brushes – synthetic is the best way to go. Also, as I’m disorganised and always in a rush, I am not very good at washing my paintbrushes, so having left them caked in paint or sat for literally weeks in a jug of dirty paint water, I have ruined quite a few in my time. No expensive brushes for me!!
I also love using my palette knife to make bold marks, but I have also upgraded that recently. My cake decorating spatula has come in very useful when I want to make a big and bold mark on the canvas. Who knew kitchen tools could be so handy!?
6. Artist Pastels
I am a huge fan of charcoal and pastels. I often use soft pastels or charcoal to mark out my composition before I begin to apply paint to canvas, and of course if you are familiar with my recent work, you will notice the marks and lines I add to the painting, which are all oil pastels. I just find they give a depth and interest to my work and love the freedom I feel when using them. They take me right back to childhood when playing with crayons was my favourite thing to do.
I use a disposable paper palette like this one. This is great for me as it allows me to work quickly and it saves time. I keep it on my studio table next to all my paints so I can mix on the go. However, if I’m using a colour and I need to mix a larger quantity or if I want the mixture to be watered down and be runnier, I use a couple of old ceramic plates or Tupperware tubs. These are ideal, as often I’m painting when I can, in between admin and when I have a spare hour. I hate to waste a colour I’ve mixed and not used up, so I’ll wrap a bit of cling film over the top and the paint will stay wet for a few days. Then I can come back to my painting at a later stage and I don’t have the stress of trying to mix the exact colour match to continue with my painting. I can just pick up the paintbrush and go!
Love it or loathe it, we live in a social media age and as an artist, I enjoy sharing my artwork on these platforms such as Instagram (although I have my moments..) I’ll often try to capture what I’m doing on video and share it on Instagram through out the week and so I set up a little stand that is attached to my table in my studio and film away. I used to be really self-conscious when filming and I would immediately freeze up and paint very rigidly, which is the absolute opposite of the style of work I like to create. This meant that whenever I filmed, I would rarely like what I had painted. But then with practice, I got very good at ignoring my camera and reasoned that I didn’t have to post anything unless I wanted to and there is always the ‘edit’ button. Just a reminder that what you see on my Instagram feed is only a very tiny, beautifully curated, part of my life!
9. Spray bottles and paper towels
Acrylic paint dries fast, which is both good and bad. It’s good as I hate waiting, but it is bad when you made a mark that you are not so keen on. When this happens, the spray bottle full of water comes out of the holster and straight on to the canvas, with paper towels in tow to wipe away the carnage. You have to be quick with the water and towels, but when done, hey presto, it’s as good as new and the disaster is averted. Knowing that a mistake can be erased with the squirt of a water bottle, has allowed me to be braver and experiment with a bold mark or colour, rather than playing safe all the time.
Once I have chosen the colours that I am going to use, I draw a few sketches in my notebook. These are ideas of compositions I could use, often they are based on a specific landscape I’ve seen or even somewhere just from memory. My sketchbook gives me some ideas as to the direction of the painting I want it to go. I’ve found this very useful especially when painting larger artworks. If I already have a sketch of how I’m going to proceed, then it is a lot easier to translate my idea on to canvas. Plus, if I get a bit stuck on a section, or lose my focus, then having my sketchbook at my side, helps me navigate through a problem and I can get back on track.
11. Messy clothes
Finally, if you know me, you will know I’m messy. As in very messy. As in terribly messy. I have paint on most of my ‘nice, non-painting’ clothes, which have now become ‘painting’ clothes. And paint in my hair at the end of the day? How does that even happen?? So my painting wardrobe is definitely a mix of old and paint splattered jeans and jumpers. I really should invest in a boiler suit to throw on top of whatever I’m wearing for those days when I’m just popping in the studio for five minutes and end up staying for two hours! But in my opinion, if you are not covered in paint at the end of the day, what have you been doing? Messy paint covered hands and jeans are the sign of a good day! Although, if anyone has any handy tips on how to get acrylic paint out of a carpet, please let me know below…
I hope you have enjoyed this small insight into my studio and what surrounds me on a daily basis. Which one is your favourite?? Let me know below.
Until next time,